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Palestinian couple brace for east Jerusalem eviction

Palestinian couple Nora and Mustafa Sub Laban pose for a picture in their home in the walled Old City of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which they are set to lose of Jewish settlers after a 45-year legal battle
— Jerusalem (AFP)

In the walled Old City of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Nora and Mustafa Sub Laban are counting down the last days before a court decision that has hovered over them since 1978 is carried out.

After decades of legal wrangling, they are set to be evicted from their home in the Muslim Quarter to make way for Jewish settlers.

"These days, I'm like a prisoner waiting to be put to death. I don't sleep like other people," Nora Sub Laban told AFP.

The east Jerusalem residents have been embroiled in a 45-year legal battle with authorities and Israeli settlers.

The settlers are part of an organisation called Atara Leyoshna and are represented by Eli Attal, according to both the Sub Laban family and Ir Amim, an anti-settlement watchdog.

Attal declined to comment about the case when approached by AFP.

The Israeli plaintiffs claim that Jews lived in the building before the division of the holy city into Israeli and Jordanian sectors following the proclamation of the Jewish state in 1948.

They invoke an Israeli law from the 1970s that allows Jews to reclaim property owned by Jews before 1948, even if they are not related.

The Sub Labans have Israeli court rulings recognising their status as "protected tenants" since 1953 but the plaintiffs invoke an Israeli law from the 1970s that allows Jews to reclaim property owned by Jews before 1948, even if they are not related

The Sub Labans say they were designated "protected tenants" by Jordan in the 1950s, before Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and proceeded to annex it in a move regarded as illegal by the United Nations.

The family showed AFP a Jordanian rental contract dating back to 1953, as well as Israeli court rulings recognising their status as "protected tenants".

Yet the courts said that the couple do not currently live permanently in the building, so their "protected tenants" status no longer applies and the eviction can go ahead.

Nora said the judgment refers to a period when she was not living in the apartment daily because of a hospitalisation.

"Legally speaking, within the Israeli system, nothing more can be done," said Rafat Sub Laban, the couple's son and an employee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

- Israeli 'hegemony' -

Messages scribbled on the wall by their grandchildren are one of the few things left in the almost empty apartment after the couple removed everything of sentimental value for fear of losing it when Israeli police move in to evict them

According to Ir Amim, some 150 Palestinian families in Jerusalem's Old City and nearby neighbourhoods are currently threatened with eviction because of "discriminatory laws and state collusion with settler organisations".

The group says such evictions are part of "a strategy to cement Israeli hegemony of the Old City basin, the most religiously and politically sensitive part of Jerusalem and a core issue of the conflict".

Over the years, settlers have opened several yeshivas -- Jewish seminaries -- on the street where the Sub Laban family lives.

Their nearest Israeli neighbour lives just a few steps from their home -- they share a landing.

But it is not a peaceful cohabitation.

"We do not live in freedom and security," said Nora.

Inside the apartment, photos have been taken down and objects of sentimental value removed. The Sub Labans know that when the police come, they will have only a few moments to clear out their things.

"When unfortunately that happens, we will bring our parents to my sister and me" in another neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, their son Rafat said.

"It's the only option."

Messages scribbled on the wall in black marker by their grandchildren are one of the few things left in the almost empty apartment.

Now 68, Nora Sub Laban says the flat in the Old City's Muslim Quarter is "my whole life. But (the Israeli settlers) don't care about that."

"Palestine will be free", "We will return" and "This is our home," they read.

"I lived my childhood in this house, I grew up here, I lost my father and my mother here", said Nora Sub Laban.

"People think that a house is just walls, but it's also memories, it's my whole life," the 68-year-old added.

"But (the settlers) don't care about that."

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